3. While forages are the most
"natural" diet for small
ruminants and usually the
most economical, a their
nutritional requirements can
be met by feeding a variety of
The rumen is a very adaptable
Feedstuffs can substitute for
one another so long as
nutritional requirements are
Avoid creating dangerous
nutritional imbalances .
4. Do not compromise the health
of the rumen.
Feeding programs should take
into account animal
availability, and cost.
Nutrient requirements vary by
species, age, size (weight), and
stage of production.
6. Dry Forages & Roughages
Feeds that are cut
7. It is usually the primary
source of nutrients for
sheep during the winter
months or dry season when
most forage plants are not
Hay varies tremendously in
quality, and while hay
quality can be affected by
plant species, quality is
determined mostly by the
maturity of the plants when
they were harvested for hay.
8. Proper harvesting and
storage is necessary to
maintain nutritional quality
Hay that is stored outside
without cover deteriorates
rapidly in quality. The only
way to know the "true"
nutritive value of hay is to
have it analyzed at a forage
A list of certified forage
testing laboratories can be
9. Hay is a moderate source of protein and energy.
While good grass hays usually have as much
energy as legume hays, legumes have 50 to 75
percent more protein and three times as much
A good quality grass hay will be a better source of
nutrients than a low or medium-quality legume
The important thing about hay is to feed the right
hay at the right time.
10. There is no "best" hay.
From an economical standpoint, the "best" hay is the
hay that provides nutrients at the lowest cost.
Palatability is important to the extend that the more
hay sheep refuse the higher cost it will be.
A decent grass hay is usually more than adequate for
females during maintenance and in early to mid-
It almost always meets the needs of mature males and
A mixed grass-legume hay can be fed to females in late
gestation to meet their requirements for calcium.
11. A pure legume hay should be
saved for the lactation diet due to
its higher level of protein and
On the other hand, if a grass hay
is fed during late gestation or
lactation, it may be necessary to
provide an additional source of
calcium to pregnant females and
supplemental calcium and
protein to lactating females.
13. Pasture, range, forbs, and
browse are usually the primary
and most economical source of
In many cases, all that a
ruminant needs to meet its
For example, from the time a
female weans her young
through her first 15 weeks of
pregnancy, forage will likely
meet all her nutritional needs.
14. Pasture is high in energy,
protein, and palatability
when it is in a vegetative
However, it can have a high
moisture content when it is
rapidly growing, and
sometimes it can be difficult
for high-producing animals
to eat enough grass to meet
their nutrient requirements.
Vegetation with high
moisture content can also
cause loose bowels.
15. As pasture plants mature,
digestibility, and nutritive
value decline, thus it is
important to rotate and/or
clip pastures to keep plants
in a vegetative state.
Forbs often have higher
digestibility and crude
protein levels than grasses
at similar stages of
16. Sheep and goats are excellent
weed eaters and will often
choose to eat weeds over grass.
Because of their preference for
weeds, they are often used to
control invasive or noxious
weeds, such as leafy spurge,
knapweed, and kudzu.
17. Silage (or ensilage) is a
generic term for livestock
feed that is produced by the
controlled fermentation of
high moisture herbage.
Silage can be made from
forage or grain crops.
It has been successfully fed to
sheep; however, special
attention must be paid to
quality, as moldy silage can
cause listeriosis or "circling
Listeriosis is an occasional
cause of abortion in ewes.
18. As with fresh forage, the a high-producing animal
often cannot consume enough high moisture silage to
meet its nutritional needs.
Silage is typically fed on large farms, due to the need
for storage and automated feeding equipment.
It can be a more economical source of feed than
For small and medium sized flocks, silage bags make
silage feeding a possibility.
19. It is becoming more popular to feed balage to sheep.
20. It is oftentimes necessary to feed concentrates to
provide the nutrients that forage alone cannot
This is particularly true in the case of high-producing
There are also times and situations where
concentrates are a more economical source of
nutrients than forages.
There are two types of concentrate feeds:
carbonaceous (energy) and proteinaceous (protein).
21. “Energy" feeds are high
in total digestible
nutrients (TDN), but
tend to be low in protein
(8-11 percent protein).
The most common
energy feeds are cereal
grains: corn, barley,
wheat, oats, milo (grain
sorghum), and rye.
22. It is not necessary to
process grains (grind,
crack, roll, or crimp)
except for animals that are
less than six weeks of age
and lack a functioning
In fact, whole grain diets
are healthier for the rumen
because they require the
animal to do its own
grinding of the feed.
Whole, raw soybeans may
also be limit fed.
23. While cereal grains are the most concentrated source of
energy, they are high in phosphorus and low in calcium.
Feeding a diet that is high in phosphorus and low in
calcium can cause urinary calculi in wethers and intact
Inadequate calcium can lead to milk fever in pregnant or
Excessive intake of grain or sudden intake of grain can
cause numerous digestive and metabolic problems
including enterotoxemia (overeating disease), acidosis
(grain overload), feedlot bloat, and
The rumen always needs time to adjust to a higher
25. “Protein feeds" contain high levels of protein (over 15
percent) and are usually plant-derived.
Examples include soybean meal, cottonseed meal,
and fish meal.
Ruminant-derived meat and bone meal cannot (by
law) be fed to other ruminants.
Protein quantity is generally more important than
protein quality (amino acid content) in ruminant
livestock because the microorganisms in the rumen
manufacture their own body protein.
26. Livestock do not store excess
protein; it is burned as energy or
eliminated (as nitrogen) by the
Overfeeding protein will not usually
increase productivity or carcass
Since parasites often cause blood
loss in small ruminants, higher
levels of protein in the diet enable
the animal to mount a greater
immune response to parasites,
especially the blood-sucking barber
27. Urea is not a protein supplement, but is a source of
nonprotein nitrogen (NPN) that rumen bacteria can
use to synthesize protein.
NPN should be used only in conjunction with high-
energy feeds such as corn.
Urea, which is 45 percent nitrogen and has a crude
protein equivalent of 281 percent, should not supply
over one-third of the total nitrogen in a diet.
29. Many feed companies offer "complete“ feeds.
Usually to be fed with hay or pasture.
These are textured (sweet) or processed (pelleted)
feed products which have been balanced for the
needs of livestock of a particular species, age, and
Complete feeds should not be mixed with other grain,
because this will "unbalance" them.
For example, adding corn to a complete feed will alter
the Ca:P ratio and could result in urinary calculi.
30. Pelleted rations have an advantage in that the animals
cannot sort feed ingredients.
Sorting can be a problem when animals are on self-
feeders and allowed to eat all they want.
Pelleted diets are ideal for free choice self-feeding.
Complete feeds come in 50 or 100 lb. sacks and tend to
be more expensive than home-made concentrate
For small producers, inexperienced shepherds, and 4-H
members, commercial feeds are usually recommended.
31. To help control feed costs, producers can mix their
own simple rations by combining various feed
ingredients, such as corn, soybean meal, and
It is possible to get commercial pelleted supplements
that contain vitamins and minerals, as well as high
levels of protein (34-40%).
These supplements can easily be combined with
whole grains or by-product feeds to create a balanced
32. There are numerous by-products that can be fed.
Most by-products are available as a result of
processing a traditional feed ingredient to generate
For example, corn gluten meal is a by-product of the
corn milling process. Soybean hulls are a by-product
of soybean processing for oil and meal.
Can often be economical sources of nutrients for
sheep; however, they need be analyzed to determine
their nutrient content.
34. Choosing the right mineral supplement can be very tricky.
Small Ruminants require macro and micro (trace)
minerals and you need to know what minerals are
deficient (or excess) in your area and in your feedstuffs.
Mineral supplements range from trace mineralized salt
(TMS) fortified with selenium to complete mineral mixes
containing all of the macro and micro minerals required.
Granular or "loose" forms of minerals are preferred to
Blocks are hard on the teeth and consumption may be
Mineral feeders should be full of fresh mineral, placed in
readily available areas and protected from the weather.
35. A compound added to the ration for a purpose other
than to supply nutrients.
Various feed additives can be utilized to improve the
health and performance.
Sub-therapeutic antibiotics in rations can help to
prevent enterotoxemia and respiratory disease.
Lasalocid (Bovatec®) and Monensin (Rumensin®) are
ionophores that can be added to mineral mixes or
36. Ionophores improve feed utilization and gain in cattle
by altering rumen fermentation.
They are also coccidiostats. They kill coccidia,
primarily during the sporozoite stage.
Lasalocid (Bovatec®) is labeled as a coccidiostat for
Rumensin® is approved for use in goats and cattle.
37. Probiotics are just the opposite of antibiotics.
They are living organisms of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics may improve animal performance by
keeping livestock healthy and improving their
Yeast is a probiotic and has been incorporated into
Ammonium chloride is often added to rations to
prevent urinary calculi (kidney stones).
38. Feedstuffs for sheep and lambs
By-Products and Regionally Available Alternative